Live-blogging isn’t terribly new to journalism. The minute-by-minute format has been a feature of reporting via the web for over a decade, used in force by tech websites and then fully incorporated by most, if not all, major news organisations.
Fans of live-blogging argue that it allows an audience to follow a fast-moving story as it unfolds with rolling information that can also link to multimedia and incorporate live commentary from the readership. It’s refreshing in its directness and unabated by the “conceits” of the journalist, who becomes a conduit for incremental updates rather than a crafter of narrative. There are some drawbacks, sure, but the format unleashes the potential of the Internet in its ability to refresh detail without time wasted on re-editing.
True, the format is well-suited to certain events, like a conflict or natural disaster, overcoming a pitfall of traditional written media’s more sluggish way of reporting. Here, the written word can mimic radio or television in giving concise updates where the fuss of storytelling isn’t completely necessary.
It is, however, much less suited to other stories, ones with complicated premises and participants that require analysis or perspective to make sense to a wider audience. Try to understand a meeting on the eurozone crisis recounted back to front. Somehow snippets and statistics whacked out in reverse sequence don’t pass muster – the need to keep a steady stream of updates means important tangential details have only their 15 minutes (or maybe just 5) at centre stage.
Under the guise of refreshing directness, immediacy and subverting the conceits of authorship, live-blogging isn’t just a straight retelling of events. It editorialises in its own way. Screenshots of tweets about a Greek minister fainting can take up four times the space as the summary of an entire press conference or four national leaders’ speeches (now reduced to four key quotes, which thankfully we know were uttered sometime before 3:49pm).
When we talk about journalism we mean more than just “content”, as Monocle’s Hugo Macdonald argued in Monday’s Monocolumn. There’s a value in thinking of what we consume online as more than content, and no shame in wanting someone else to do the work in connecting Italian consumer confidence ratings and the latest FTSE stock price in less than 5900 words of piecemeal. The layers of a story should be sewn together, not stacked.
Live-blogging is definitely not the death of journalism as critics have labelled it. But it has a time and place, one that is far more limited than we allow.